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Fellowship Church Worships with Meyer Sound's MILO
Between December 21 and 24, 2005, nearly 30,000 residents of the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) area attended Christmas services – 11 in all – at Fellowship Church's main Grapevine campus, located a few miles from the DFW airport. Certainly the timeless story of Jesus' birth was familiar to everybody, but some likely were surprised to experience the "good tidings of great joy" presented via strikingly new technology. The mid-1990's AV gear used in previous years was gone, supplanted by Christie Digital Cinema HDTV projectors and a complementary high-definition audio system built around 26 Meyer Sound MILO high-power curvilinear array loudspeakers.
"Christmas is the beginning of the greatest story ever told," emphasizes Fellowship Church's media director, Mike Walker. "Our challenge is to line up our presentation quality with the subject at hand. This year, the results were staggering. There were moments when I was getting chillbumps on top of my goosebumps."
The Christmas services marked the culmination of six weeks of concentrated planning and installation that had wrapped up in late August. The logistics of Fellowship's technology makeover were entrusted to Clark Pro Media, an Atlanta-based performance engineering company specializing in worship applications. The company had established a close working relationship with Walker and Senior Audio Engineer Matt Wheeler based on prior design-build projects in other buildings at Fellowship Church's Grapevine campus and three satellite campuses. After installing Meyer Sound curvilinear arrays in the new satellite facilities and immediately experiencing notably superior audio, Walker and Wheeler agreed it was time to overhaul systems at the 4,100-seat worship center in Grapevine.
"The old system went in when the building was completed in 1998," recalls Walker, "and we have a different identity than we did back then. Churches today have started to grasp what excellent sound really means, and sound has become much more of a priority over the past five years. When the message of your pastor, and of your music, is your deliverable, then your job is to deliver that message with more clarity, energy, and consistent coverage."
In the spirit of due diligence, Wheeler and Walker went out of their way to audition all leading contenders in the line array market that they hadn't yet heard first-hand. Listening sessions were conducted in their own auditorium whenever possible, or at other venues when necessary. The results quickly narrowed the field until the scales finally tipped in favor of a Meyer Sound M Series curvilinear array. The only remaining question was whether to choose MICA or MILO.
"We listened to MICA and MILO side by side, and it was a tough choice," admits Matt Wheeler. "MICA blew us away in the vocal range, though MILO was stunning as well. In the end, there was a certain magic to MILO that won us over."
For Walker, versatility was the deciding factor. "We vary from classical interludes to straight-up rock and roll. We needed something that was transparent enough for an acoustic orchestral sound, but could get up and boogie when we needed to turn it up. Even at low volumes, the presence of the MILO cabinet is just unparalleled."
With MILO as his foundation, Clark Pro Media's George Clark used Meyer Sound's MAPP Online Pro software to help him configure the system design for the specific room coverage needs. Clark faced significant acoustical challenges imposed by the squared-off, cakebox shape and an 80-foot-deep balcony, but his final design overcame them to supply coherent, single-source sound through most of the room. Clark's design utilized arrays of 13 MILO cabinets on each side of the stage, which eliminated the upper balcony delay loudspeakers required by the old clusters. An LD-3 compensating line driver provides system processing and drive for the MILO arrays.
Two DF-4 dedicated downfill loudspeakers are suspended underneath each of the arrays, with an additional three-wide DF-4 cluster aimed at center seating in the 120-foot wide room. The extreme sides are each covered by an MSL-4 horn-loaded long-throw loudspeaker flown over a single DF-4 unit. Deep bass emanates in abundance from 10 groundstacked 700-HP ultrahigh-power subwoofers.
The principals involved quickly agreed on using UPJ-1P compact VariO loudspeakers for the frontfill and under-balcony systems; Clark specified five and 16 cabinets, respectively, to do the jobs.
"The UPJs really have been a key to getting everybody feeling like they were worshipping together in one room," says Walker. "Before, it seemed like we had three separate spaces – front, balcony and under-balcony — with three systems giving us three different sounds. Getting a seamless sound between the main arrays and the under-balcony delays was crucial, and the UPJs have done an amazing job."
The new loudspeakers won immediate recognition for improving sound quality and coverage, but the system's full capabilities weren't tested until the series of Christmas services. For those, six additional synchronized projectors were placed behind a temporary 18-foot-by-48-foot screen, with video scenes augmented by objects physically flown around the room for effect. Music was provided by a six-piece string section, full band, seven praise singers and a 50-piece choir, all supplemented by Pro Tools tracks recorded for the occasion. At times the barrage of visuals and surging wall of sound presented an overwhelming spectacle, yet, for many, the defining moment came when senior pastor Ed Young spoke alone, his voice barely above a whisper, his face lit by the flame of a single match.
For Mike Walker, the new system proved itself in the way it effortlessly handled the dynamics of music and speech. "We went from tender, still moments to big, in-your-face moments. Having a PA that can do both is a wonderful luxury, and the definition we've gained compared to the old system is just staggering."
In addition to the 11 services at the Grapevine campus, 10 more services were held at the satellite campuses. Total attendance at all four campuses over the four days was about 37,500, the highest ever for the church's Christmas services.